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King University STEM Students Recipients of Numerous Honors and Awards

May 12, 2020

During the 2019-2020 academic year, several undergraduate students from the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in King University’s College of Arts and Sciences have received prestigious honors, grant funding, and opportunities to present their research at national and regional conferences.

“Students in King University’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs have long distinguished themselves among their peers from colleges and universities across the country,” says Kelly Vaughan, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology. “The opportunity to participate in original research is transformational and not typically found at schools our size, and we are proud of all of our students’ accomplishments. Over the past several years, many of our students have obtained grant funding, conducted mentored research, presented their work at regional and national conferences, received national awards, and are now either employed in the STEM field or pursuing graduate or professional degrees in programs throughout the U.S.”

The Pfizer SOT (Society of Toxicology) Undergraduate Student Travel Awards, a prominent national program in toxicology, recognize outstanding undergraduates who are presenting research at the SOT’s annual meeting in order to foster interest in graduate studies in this field. Of the thousands of research scientists across the U.S. who present their research at the international meeting, approximately 50 are undergraduate students. King students Macarena Martín Mayor and Kelly Rivenbark, both of whom conducted research under Vaughan’s mentorship, were two of only 21 undergraduate students presented with the prestigious Pfizer Award to attend the meeting this year.

Martín Mayor was selected for her research on the effect of non-nutritive sweeteners on lipid accumulation. Rivenbark was chosen for her research on the effects of BPA exposure and its replacement of BPF on the reproductive potential of a model organism to help assess whether bisphenol compounds are safe for human exposure.

Martín Mayor and Rivenbark are also both honorees of King’s Burke Endowment fellowship fund, and annual presenters at the UMBC (University of Maryland at Baltimore County Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences) and NIMBioS (National Institute for Mathematics and Biological Synthesis) conferences. In addition, Rivenbark is a two-time winner of the Eastman-NETSACS (Northeast Tennessee Section of the American Chemical Society) Student Research Symposium award. Both students were accepted into multiple doctoral degree programs. Martín Mayor plans to attend the University of South Florida to pursue her Ph.D. in Oceanography, while Rivenbark will pursue her Ph.D. in Toxicology at Texas A&M University.

In addition, Alex Svetlik was a recipient of the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Award. This award program enables promising undergraduate science majors from diverse backgrounds to engage in toxicology presentations and case studies at the SOT annual meeting, with the goal of recruiting them into graduate school and toxicology research careers. Her research, conducted under Vaughan, investigated the neuroprotective ability of nicotine to prevent neurodegeneration development due to pesticide exposure in microscopic nematodes as a model for understanding Parkinson’s disease development in a laboratory setting. Svetlik is also a Burke Fellow and NIMBioS presenter.

Additional outstanding STEM students from the current academic year include Lauren Campbell, Austin Huff, Morgan Powers, and Elijah Seay. Campbell is an Appalachian College Association (ACA) Ledford Scholarship recipient and presented her research at the ACA Annual Summit. The Ledford Scholarship provides financial assistance for summer research projects to undergraduate students enrolled at ACA member institutions. Under the guidance of Vaughan and Scott Landis, Ph.D., former assistant professor of Exercise Science, Campbell’s research investigated connections between core instability and prior lower extremity injuries (or no prior injuries) in college athletes. She has been accepted to multiple physical therapy doctoral programs and will be attending Emory & Henry University in the fall.

A Burke Fellow and NIMBioS presenter, Huff developed his research with Josh Rudd, assistant professor of Biology at King, on the impacts of salinity levels and exposure to juvenile mussels with the Virginia Department of Fisheries. This study will lead to further investigation on the interactions of road salt alternatives on this endangered organism. He has been accepted to the graduate chemistry program at Virginia Tech. Powers, a UMBC and NIMBioS presenter, participated in a National Science Foundation Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates at Texas A&M University, using microbiology techniques to investigate the relationship between gene mutation and antibiotic resistance.

Seay worked with Bill Linderman, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Physics at King, to address questions in Ramsey theory. Their work is currently in development for publication, and Seay presented his research at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM). The JMM is the national meeting of the American Mathematics Association and Mathematics Association of America, and is the largest mathematics gathering in the world. Seay was a NIMBioS attendee in 2018.